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MALT Lymphoma

Overview :

The digestive tract is generally not associated with lymphoid tissue, with the exception of small collections of lymphocytes such as Peyer's patches. A specific kind of white blood cell, B-lymphocytes, can accumulate in response to infections of the digestive tract and other secretory tissues, or as a result of autoimmune conditions such as Sjgren's syndrome. When the growth of these lymphocytes is maintained through continued infection or autoimmune disease, a malignant cell can arise and replace the normal lymphocytes. These lymphomas, derived from mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT), most commonly arise in the stomach. Their growth seems to be dependent upon continuous stimulation of the immune system by an infectious agent, such as H. pylori, or some other entity, termed an antigen, that the body recognizes as foreign. This antigen-driven growth permits these tumors to be treated by eliminating the stimulus that generated the original, normal immune response. In the stomach they are associated, in greater than 90% of all cases, with the bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). This bacteria is also associated with peptic stomach irritation, ulcers, and gastric cancer. MALT lymphomas are generally indolent, that is, they grow slowly and cause little in the way of symptoms. Those MALT lymphomas that arise in the stomach in response to H. pylori infections are generally successfully treated with antibiotics, which eliminate the bacteria.


MALT lymphomas occur at a frequency of about 1.5 per 100,000 people per year in the United States and account for about 10% of all non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The frequency varies among different populations. For example, in parts of Italy the frequency of MALT lymphomas is as high as 13 per 100,000 people per year. This can in part be attributed to different rates of infection with H. pylori. However, other hereditary, dietary, or environmental factors are almost certainly involved.

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